Courageous – 2011
Directed by Alex Kendrick
Starring Alex Kendrick, Ken Bevel, Kevin Downes, Ben Davies, Robert Amaya, members of the Sherwood Baptist Church
Written by Alex and Stephen Kendrick
Sherwood Baptist Church, in Albany, Georgia has a line on something here. Taking the cue from the success of The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Veggie Tales, they took the opportunity to get their overtly Christian message out to the masses. One can’t blame them for trying. If at first, the message outweighed the delivery for the most part, things are getting better. The people in front of the camera have gone from a low of Fireproof, where everyone but Holy Ringer Kirk Cameron looked like they were memorizing lines (at best) or straight out of porn (Cameron’s film wife). The camera work was equally shabby with that film. There was no sense of space or depth, just point and shoot. Still the message prevailed, and it became the most profitable Independent Film of 2008.
Suffice to say, they took the money and put it back into the product. Courageous shows a composite of better acting, better writing and better production. Some of the actors are the same. Instead of concentrating on one set of characters and thereby living or dying with them, we get to see each in shorter bursts, with a coherent story to bind them all.
That story is about 5 fathers, each at different stages of their lives. A tragedy experienced by one of them brings them all together and, with one exception, all are better for it. They each decide to work on improving on their role as father through mutual support, prayer and through scripture. The message comes across somewhat awkwardly at times, as characters bring it up in daily conversation without any real segue. There are some real moments of brilliance, though, such as when one of the characters reaches out in prayer for a sign, and in a real sense of how God can work miracles, hears his name called in an answer to that prayer. The other great moment for the film is a scene I have seen played out in my life. One of the fathers gets an offer to dance spontaneously with his daughter. He refuses, and the moment forever passes. Later, in an incredibly touching moment, he gets his second chance to dance and he takes it.
The weakest part of the film is the portrayal of the criminal element. Each of the key bad guys are out of the Red State mentality of society’s villains. And even if they make strides to integrate the core group of fathers, one can’t help but think the producer’s ideas of criminals is based on stereotype more than understanding.
What can we expect, though, from a church group, Sherwood Productions, that is grass-roots? The filmmakers are staying true to themselves, even if it comes off as somewhat naïve, square, or uninformed. One could say the same of anyone in an environment outside of their own circle.
There was another square, in Biblical history. His name was Noah. His efforts seemed out of touch with everyone else who wasn’t with him, making a boat. As that story goes, the hipsters took a bath, and the world became clean…for Noah and his descendants.
Given the subject, Courageous is not inordinately preachy. The Kendricks do their best to lead by showing examples that people can relate to. If you want to see people trying to improve, watch this film.
(***1/2 out of *****)